Conservationists sue for lynx protection

April 22, 2008 5:06:41 AM PDT

The federal government lists the elusive, furry cats as threatened in 14 states - but not in New Mexico.

"We've thought the Fish and Wildlife Service's position on lynx in New Mexico is very odd," said Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups that sued. "Once lynx cross from Colorado into New Mexico - which they have been doing - they're suddenly not protected anymore. We don't think that makes any sense."

The Colorado Division of Wildlife, which has released more than 200 lynx in Colorado since 1999, tracked about 60 of the animals into New Mexico's Taos, Rio Arriba and San Juan counties between 1999 and 2006, the lawsuit said.

Fish and Wildlife officials have not seen the lawsuit and cannot comment on ongoing litigation, said Diane Katzenberger, a spokeswoman for Fish and Wildlife in Denver.

Last August, conservation groups petitioned for protection for the cats, asking the agency to make a decision on the species' status in New Mexico.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., complains that Fish and Wildlife failed to make a finding on the petition within 90 days as required by the Endangered Species Act. The law gives the agency 90 days to determine whether the petition provides sufficient information for the agency to then determine whether a listing may be warranted.

The lawsuit names as defendants the Interior Department, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Fish and Wildlife Director Dale Hall and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. The groups that sued are WildEarth Guardians of Santa Fe; Center for Native Ecosystems in Paonia, Colo.; Animal Protection of New Mexico in Albuquerque; Carson Forest Watch of Llano, N.M.; and the Animal Protection Institute of Sacramento, Calif.